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Out actor enjoys ‘gossip queen’ role in ‘My Fair Lady’

Proving his versatility was challenge for New York-based performer



My Fair Lady review, gay news, Washington Blade
From left, Laird Mackintosh and Wade McCollum in ‘My Fair Lady.’ (Photo by Joan Marcus; courtesy Kennedy Center)

‘My Fair Lady’
Through Jan. 19
Kennedy Center

Out actor Wade McCollum was born on the road. His father played in a rock band and the family lived mostly in vans and hotel rooms. These memories are McCollum’s earliest and most vivid, more clearly recalled than the comparably conventional parts of his youth spent in Oregon. 

So, it’s not surprising that hopping from city to city with a big musical is both familiar and comfortable to him. For the next year, the 36-year-old actor is playing Professor Zoltan Karpathy in the national tour of Bartlett Sher’s esteemed Broadway production of “My Fair Lady,” now at the Kennedy Center Opera House. 

Lerner and Loewe’s beloved Edwardian London set musical (a hit on stage and screen), adapted from George Bernard’s Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” is the story of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle who goes to pompous Professor Henry Higgins for elocution lessons. On a whim, Higgins bets that in six months he will not only improve Eliza’s speech, but will pass her off as a duchess at an embassy ball. As Higgins’ infamous Hungarian rival, Professor Karpathy, McCollum plays a supporting but integral part. 

McCollum’s bio boasts a kaleidoscope of roles including the title character in off-Broadway’s “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.” Among numerous other gigs, he played in “Wicked” (Broadway) and starred as “Tick/Mitzi” in the first national tour of the musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”

When not touring, McCollum lives in New York City with his husband, an accomplished artist. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Zoltan is a quite a character, isn’t he?

WADE MCCOLLUM: He’s a Hungarian dialectician who shows up just when Henry Higgins is presenting a transformed Eliza to society. He’s a meddling social climber, more interested in appearance than the reality of the situation. He’s a gossip queen, really. In terms of function, Zoltan serves as a threat to the goal of the play which is for Eliza to become a believable member of the upper class. It’s a small part but very important to moving the play along. He’s an island character in terms of energy and tempo, a one of a kind Hungarian in a sea of mostly Brits. 

BLADE: He’s wonderfully over the top. Are you having fun with him?

MCCOLLUM: A lot of fun. I like living in that sort of world. It’s grounded in his aspiration to be best friends with royalty and aristocrats and know their secrets. He’s teaching people how to speak properly and hide their backgrounds. But he blackmails them to climb the social ladder himself.  

BLADE: You don’t typically play supporting roles, do you?

MCCOLLUM: Not really.For the last four or five years I’ve been in leading role with various world premieres. I love being the protagonist. But it’s been relaxing and community building to not carry the narrative burden and get to hang out with the ensemble and be part of the play in a more tertiary way. And to work with director Bartlett Sher. He’s brilliant.

BLADE: “My Fair Lady” is a real musical chestnut, and seemingly quaint in many ways. But recently during the impeachment hearings, Russia expert Fiona Hill, who grew up the daughter of a coalminer in North East England, spoke about America and how in England in the 1980s and 1990s, her working-class accent would have proved a barrier to most professional opportunities. 

MCCOLLUM: And that’s exactly the play. And I think she was from someplace near Yorkshire which is actually mentioned: “Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse, Hear a Cornishman converse. I’d rather hear a choir singing flat.” Class prejudice being specifically about dialect is a very British thing.

BLADE: You came to Washington with the national tour of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” in 2013. I remember you wearing some intense heels.  

MCCOLLUM: Yes. A really fun show. The only time I left the stage was to do quick costume changes. And there were many of them. The costumes were great — a finale dress transformed into the Sydney Opera House. And I really liked taking that particular show into smaller towns. Bringing the glitter and that show’s beautiful message of inclusion was a pleasure. And that was before “Drag Race” had taken off and the trans conversation had not yet become ubiquitous. We helped spark those conversations and introduce those ideas in places that hadn’t known about them. 

BLADE: Were there poignant moments?

MCCOLLUM: Numerous examples. I remember meeting a 12-year-old girl who said to me, “I have a little brother who likes to dress up in girls’ clothes and I’ve been mean to him and made him cry. After seeing the show, I think I should love him exactly the way he is.” When this happens, you feel like you’re doing something of importance. 

BLADE: Did casting agents try to pigeon hole you early on?

MCCOLLUM: Sure, I’ve encountered some things. I remember a callback for a big pilot in L.A. I’d just finished “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles on stage. It was a successful show with a long run and I’d received some awards. Casting people knew me as that and I was only getting called in for drag and trans parts. I loved coming in for these parts but I needed them to know that believe it or not, I can play straight guys too. So, at the pilot audition, one of the TV producers piped up and said, “I just have to say you’re not being gay enough.” Of course, there is no one way to play to gay. I wanted to argue but it wasn’t the venue for that. But I did ask, “Would you show me what you mean?”

BLADE: And in New York?

MCCOLLUM: Initially I had trouble with representation in New York. I come across a certain way but they didn’t realize that I’m a transformer. That’s what I do. They hadn’t seen my work, so they were putting me up for queer characters, whom I love and adore, but it was limiting. So, about a year in we had a meeting where I told them I could play all sorts of roles. To prove it, I got a job on my own accord playing a butch, wife-beating logger. The agents came. They all said, “We had no idea.” 

BLADE: It worked? 

MCCOLLUM: Yes. It was a strategy on my part. People don’t know until they know. And sometimes it takes a while for people to know your capabilities.

BLADE: Where do you see your career going next? 

MCCOLLUM: As an actor, my gifts lie in originating roles and being in the room as rewrites are happening. It’s where I’m best and of most service. After “Wicked” on Broadway, I did some large parts in world premieres. After this tour, one of those projects may move forward and hopefully I’ll be a part of that. 

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D.C. theaters offer something for every holiday taste

From ‘Hip Hop Nutcracker’ to plenty of Scrooge productions



The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington presents ‘The Holiday Show.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For many Washington area theatergoers, it wouldn’t be the holidays without seeing an old chestnut or two. At the same time, newer productions are rapidly becoming yuletide traditions in their own right, and with every unfolding holiday season, the DMV scene is additionally gifted with fresh and exciting works. 

It’s a lot. Here’s a sampling. 

National Theatre presents “A Magical Cirque Christmas” (Dec. 16-18), an evening of varied performers and spectacular double-jointed cirque artists accompanied by your favorite holiday music performed live. Mistress of Magic Lucy Darling hosts this exciting and enchanting holiday entertainment for the entire family (well, almost, children under four are strictly verboten).

At Synetic Theater in Crystal City, it’s “Snow Maiden” (Dec. 1 – 23) based on a 19th century folk tale about a lonely man who creates a woman out of snow and created by Helen Hayes Award-winning choreographer and Synetic co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili. 

In Falls Church, Creative Cauldron is conjuring magic with “The Christmas Angel” (Dec. 2-18). Married collaborators Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith’s musical is based on a little-known 1910 novel by Abbey Farwell Brown about a lonely woman who finds happiness through a box of old toys.

The season now upon us offers myriad opportunities to experience Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the redemptive tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, perhaps the most celebrated Christmas character after Santa, Rudolph, and the baby Jesus.

Historic Ford’s Theatre version of “A Christmas Carol” (through Dec. 31) has been a popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years. The beautifully produced and consistently well-acted take on the Dickens’ classic (originally conceived by Michael Baron), features Craig Wallace reprising Scrooge, who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy. 

At Olney Theatre, Paul Morello lovingly revisits his celebrated take on the “A Christmas Carol” (through Jan. 1). In his solo adaptation of Dickens’ ghost story (created and performed by Morello), he brings to life more than 40 different characters including Scrooge, the entire Cratchit family, the specters, and numerous celebrants.

Olney is also reviving its holiday musical success “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” through Jan. 1, and reprising roles in the tale as old time terrific are out actor Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero as the Beast. Out actor Bobby Smith plays Lumiere. Marcia Milgrom Dodge directs.

In various books and interviews, movie star Bette Davis recounts how as a young girl, she most looked forward to finding theater tickets under the tree (a Davis family Christmas tradition). Perhaps you know a youth or adult, who’d like receive tickets this holiday season? The Kennedy Center Opera House is tempting audiences with a traveling production of the Broadway blockbuster “Wicked” (Dec. 8-Jan. 22), the much-loved prequel of the “Wizard of Oz.” 

Signature Theatre adds to the holiday fun with “Into the Woods” (through Jan. 29), Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s unique musical spin on treasured fairytales and “happily-ever-after.” The large, uber-talented cast features — among other big names — Nova Y. Payton, out actor David Merino, and Maria Rizzo. Matthew Gardiner directs.

Then there’s always “The Nutcracker.” Here are four from scores of local productions. 

The Washington Ballet presents its charming version at the gilded Warner Theatre through Dec. 30. With Tchaikovsky’s timeless music and splendid choreography by Septime Weber, this 1882 Georgetown-set production features historical figures including George Washington and King George III, along with the usual suspects like children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather.

Bethesda’s Music Center at Strathmore presents “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 19-22), Tchaikovsky’s classic re-imagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”).  

And Kansas City Ballet’s celebrated seasonal tradition, “The Nutcracker,” is at the Kennedy Center through Nov. 27, so you’ll need to move fast. 

The beloved Puppet Co. located within Glen Echo Park presents its 34th annual “The Nutcracker” through Jan. 1. The delightful puppet show includes Tchaikovsky’s familiar music and the story of Clara and her prince, with some Puppet Co. nursery rhyme spin. (Recommended for ages 4+. Run time approximately 50 minutes.)

Running nearly concurrently at the Puppet Co. is “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” (Dec. 1-30). “Hershel just wants to celebrate Hanukkah with the community, but the Queen and King of the Goblins have forbidden the lighting of the candles. Can Hershel save the day and lift the curse for this shtetl (village)?” (Recommended ages 5+. Run time approximately 60 minutes.) 

And for those who might find themselves all Nutcracker-ed out, Ballet Hispánico returns to the Kennedy Center with internationally renowned choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Doña Perón” (Nov. 30-Dec. 3), a truly exciting portrait of Eva “Evita” Perón. 

And for something festive, edifying, and relaxed, try the National Symphony Orchestra’s “Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert” at The Anthem on Dec. 6. Go ahead, why not don something hideous and enjoy your favorite holiday songs? 

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington is back with “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 3-11), an annual extravaganza that promises sparkly snow, tap dancers, and over-the-top costumes at their usual venue, the historic Lincoln Theatre in the U Street Corridor. Slated for the program are songs like “Sleigh Ride,” “Underneath the Tree,” “The 12 Rockin’ Days of Christmas,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and “Hard Candy Christmas” performed by the full Chorus, soloists, all GMCW ensembles, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus. 

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Poignant ‘Sanctuary City’ depicts two immigrants struggling to get ahead in America

Undocumented friends navigate post-9/11 New Jersey



Hernán Angulo and María Victoria Martínez in Sanctuary City at Arena Stage.  (Photo by Margot Schulman)

‘Sanctuary City’
Through Nov. 27
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth St., S.W. 

As a kid growing up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, María Victoria Martínez was obsessed with musicals, Broadway shows like “West Side Story” and Disney movies were on nonstop rotation. She knew the scores by heart and longed to play not the ingenues or princesses, but rather character roles like “The Little Mermaid’s” villainous Ursula and Miss Hannigan, the comically bitter lush in “Annie.”

“Imitating the singers is how I learned English,” says Martínez, 30. It also ignited a passion for theater that ultimately lured her into show biz (though she doesn’t do musicals).

 After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico followed by a master’s degree from A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University), she kicked off a career as a multifaceted actor. Martínez follows the work, but splits most her time between San Juan and New York City: “It’s my idea of a bicoastal existence,” she says. 

Currently Martínez, who identifies as queer, is at Arena Stage starring in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Martyna Majok’s “Sanctuary City,” an Arena/Berkeley Repertory Theatre co-production directed by David Mendizábal with associate direction and transfer direction by Cara Hinh.

Set in Newark, N.J., not long after 9/11, a time when anti-immigrant sentiment was on the rise, the new work is a timely and poignant piece. Martínez and out actor Hernán Angulo play longtime undocumented friends (simply called G and B, respectively), struggling to get ahead in America, the only home they’ve ever known. 

Without giving too much away, adds Martínez, G’s position in the U.S. is more stable than B’s. Still, she’s willing to fight to help secure his fate. He is arguably her only friend. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Would you describe your character, G, as the fierier of the two? 

MARĺA VICTORIA MARTĺNEZ: Yes. As I read the play, I definitely saw this ardent fire in G. When she feels safe the fire burns but she feels in danger, her fire is combustible and liable to burn everything down. G is the engine that tries to keep B going, to uplift him, to find ways for him to stay in the country. 

They share moments when they seem like brother and sister, sometimes friends, and even lovers. It’s left open for audience to interpret as they watch the play. It’s messy. And that’s what makes it good.

BLADE: Was it tough moving the production across country?

MARTĺNEZ: Transferring theaters was tricky – they’re very different spaces. In Berkeley we were in a black box almost in full round. Arena’s Kreeger Theater is proscenium, so we’ve had to flatten out our blocking. But in doing so we found new moments in the show. 

Audiences are different in every city. In California, there were certain moments in the show where audiences were really cracking up and here, we don’t hear a peep. But after all, theater is a living organism and moving gives new and different life.

BLADE: In “Sanctuary City,” you and Hernán Angulo play such incredibly close friends. How is that relationship offstage? 

MARTĺNEZ: We were so fortunate to have been cast together. We got along right off the bat and now we’re very close. I identify as queer and he identifies as a gay man. But it’s really our Latinidad (Latinness) that brought us together. And we both love to laugh a lot. When apart we Facetime and share Tik Toks and serious articles too. 

I’m Puerto Rican and he’s Mexican American from the Bay Area. I’m interested in Mexican culture. Spanish is my first language; and Hernán speaks Spanish, so there’s that too. 

BLADE: Have you witnessed the courage and pain of undocumented people firsthand?

MARTĺNEZ: In Puerto Rico most of the immigrants are Dominicans. We’re generally welcoming to them. But I have seen some bad things, and when I witness that aggression, it doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t understand blocking someone from seeking refuge. 

BLADE: Anything directed at you personally?

MARTĺNEZ: Yes, I experienced some unsettling xenophobia when Trump was first elected. I was still at A.R.T. and traveling home to San Juan. At the airport, I was speaking Spanish and a lady purposely bumped into me and told me to go back to my country. I hold a U.S. passport, so you can only imagine what happens to people who are more vulnerable. 

These things are really important to talk about. And I’m happy and proud to be doing the show in D.C. I think it gives it even more meaning. 

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‘Ballad of Emmett Till’ recounts last two weeks of a life cut short

A deftly staged and well-acted look at seminal American tragedy



Stars of ‘The Ballad of Emmett Till’ (l-r): Jaysen Wright, Antonio Michael Woodard as Till, and Vaughn Ryan Midder. (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

‘The Till Trilogy: The Ballad of Emmett Till’
Through Nov. 20
Mosaic Theater Company
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H St., N.E.

“The Ballad of Emmett Till,” the first part of playwright Ifa Bayeza’s “The Till Trilogy” (now playing at Mosaic Theater Company), recounts the last two weeks of the title character’s short life.

There are bursts of joy and laughter during those days, but always lurking is the knowledge that the Black 14-year-old’s infectious vitality will soon be horrifically snuffed out for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

The piece, deftly staged by Talvin Wilks, opens with the cast gathering on a dimly lit stage, hauntingly chanting the boy’s name, a sound that’s both foreboding and alluring, an invitation to hear his story, a seminal tragedy that drew the attention of a nation.

It’s the summer of 1955 and young Emmett, affectionately nicknamed Bobo, convinces his protective mother to grant him a little independence. Wearing a summer suit, new bucks, and that jaunty straw hat (made so familiar from the real life Till’s iconic photograph), he boards a train headed from Chicago to Money, Miss., where he’ll spend time with family in the Jim Crow South.

The road from the rural station to the humble home of Emmett’s Great Uncle Mose, a tenant farmer and lay preacher, narrows from two lanes to one to a dirt lane. It’s a happy place where everyone is expected to work. And despite being warned to defer to racist whites without question, Emmett and his cousin experience a freedom they don’t know on Chicago’s Southside. In the South, the city boys are free to drive and party at the boozy juke joint on Saturday nights. And while Emmett doesn’t take to picking the cotton or wringing a chicken’s neck, he adapts to other aspects of country life like fishing and going barefoot.

Antonio Michael Woodard nails Emmett as an energetic, smart-alecky, endearing youth, a child on the threshold of young manhood.

The stellar cast’s remaining five members play multiple roles: Billie Krishawn plays Emmett’s mother Mary Till-Bradley whose brave decision to display her son’s grossly disfigured corpse in an open casket for the world to see is credited with helping to spark the civil rights movement, as well as young boy cousin and Caroline Bryant, the white woman who set off the chain of events that led to Emmett’s death; out actors Jaysen Wright and Vaughn Ryan Midder convincingly double as both Emmett’s pals and the vicious white men who killed him; and the stalwartly versatile Jason Bowen plays Mose and other various Mississippians important to the story.

As the piece’s two older women, Rolanda Watts (of TV talk show fame) is excellent, instantly delineating between the two with a slight intonation or change of posture. She exudes warmth as Emmett’s great aunt, a kind woman who knew nothing about cotton but followed her heart and ended up the wife of a poor planter.

Bayeza sets the story in the past and present. At times, Emmett tells his own story, insisting he isn’t going to die, that he’s the chatty Chicago kid who will never stop talking, he’ll always be heard. The piece is also laced with sympathetic songs, ranging from hummable doowop to plaintive ballad, sung unaccompanied by some of the cast.

With roughly hewn planks and beams, set designer Andrew Cohen creates a barnlike atmosphere, evoking the scene of the crime. Sound designer Kwamina “Binnie” Biney adds atmosphere with the sounds of wild water fowls, and chickens clucking in the coop.

The playwright did her homework. In addition to describing his love for nice clothes and budding interest in girls, Bayeza details Emmett’s stammer and the bout with polio that left him with a withered leg. She touches on Mary’s jobs, relationships, intelligence, and ambition.
After a long, drawn-out death scene, the story’s painful ending is delivered as implicitly assured, but not without some promise of hope.

Running concurrently through Nov. 20 are the other parts of the trilogy: “That Summer in Sumner” and “Benevolence.”

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